Heart failure (sometimes called congestive heart failure) occurs when the heart weakens and loses its ability to pump enough blood through the body. Although the name sounds scary, many people live with heart failure for years or even decades. Symptoms usually develop gradually, as the heart works less efficiently. Sometimes, though, symptoms increase and then decrease again. Also, some people find out they have heart failure only after they've already begun experiencing severe symptoms -- while others are diagnosed before symptoms are noticeable.
Caring for someone with heart failure is an important role, since good management makes an enormous difference in how the disease progresses. Managing symptoms and medications effectively makes it possible for someone to live with heart failure while still maintaining an active, happy life.
As a caregiver, you'll be focused on:
The medications used to treat heart failure are complex and tricky to manage. With good medication management, it's possible to reduce the symptoms of heart failure and halt the progression of the disease. Key medications can even reverse some of the damage previously done to the heart. However, heart failure medications can cause side effects or can be difficult to tolerate, so monitoring and managing medications is an ongoing process. Learn more.
There's an important reason that one of the first recommendations after a diagnosis of heart failure is to make significant dietary changes. When a person with heart failure eats too much salt or drinks too much fluid, the body retains fluid, worsening heart failure. Here's how to manage diet for heart failure to decrease symptoms and prevent exacerbations.
Recognizing and managing symptoms
An important part of living with heart failure is recognizing and managing symptoms before they worsen. Shortness of breath (also called dyspnea), particularly during exertion or exercise, fluid buildup and swelling, and fatigue are some of the primary symptoms you'll need to watch for, as well as many others. Learn to manage symptoms so they don't interfere with sleep or prevent physical activity and to preserve a high quality of life.
Recognizing and managing exacerbations
Understanding and preventing the most common triggers of heart failure exacerbations is an important part of helping someone live well with the disease. And recognizing the early signs of an exacerbation and knowing what to do can be lifesaving.
Managing medical care
Working closely with doctors and being an advocate for thorough treatment is important when caring for someone with heart failure. You'll need to know what to expect from follow-up medical visits and what tests are needed to monitor heart health.